Rape and Other Sexual Violence

Human Rights Watch research found that the Ethiopian armed forces have been responsible for numerous instances of sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls in conflict-affected areas of Somali Region. Women taken into military custody as suspected ONLF spies or for providing the insurgents military support are frequently raped or otherwise sexually assaulted while being transported to or held in military camps. Soldiers have also assaulted and raped women and girls in urban areas as well as when they are collecting firewood, water, and other vital supplies in rural areas that the ENDF considers “closed.”  Human Rights Watch is unaware of any instances since 2007 in which soldiers have been disciplined or punished for committing acts of sexual violence.

Rape and other sexual violence is prohibited under the laws of war and is a war crime.122  When committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack on a civilian population, it is a crime against humanity.123

Rape of Women in Military Custody

Human Rights Watch has documented cases of rape of female detainees by government soldiers at military bases in Wardheer, Dhagahbur, Kabridahar, Jijiga, Shilabo, Duhun, and Fiiq towns, and many smaller military bases in the conflict-affected zones, indicating that rape is a widespread abuse in the region. According to many of the women and men interviewed by Human Rights Watch, rape of female detainees regularly occurs in military custody and often involves senior military officials, including base commanders, and interrogators.

In June 2007 a 38-year-old woman was detained by soldiers as she entered Dhagahbur town from her home in Kariir to sell some goats. She was taken by the soldiers to the brigade headquarters. She told Human Rights Watch that during her 25-day detention, soldiers had raped her on five separate occasions before she was transferred to a police station.124

In June 2007, soldiers arrested a 17-year-old student from her home in Duhun, in Duhun wereda, Fiiq zone, accusing her of being an ONLF supporter. The nine soldiers took her to the Duhun military base, where she was detained together with about 15 other female students in a dark hole in the ground. The soldiers beat her on the first night of her detention, and then beat and raped her the second night. During her three-month detention, she was raped at least 13 times. According to the student, most of the 40 or so women who were detained at various times during those three months were raped, and the camp commander himself participated in the rapes:

Every night, they took all of us girls to [interrogations]. They would separate us and beat us.

The second time they took me, they raped me. It is hard to talk about, a man who is more powerful than you can do whatever he wants to you, so they violated me and raped me as they wanted. All three of the men raped me, consecutively. Then we were returned to the hole.

I was in a lot of pain and there was no doctor, until today I have not seen a doctor. I was held in the prison for three months, and raped on at least 12 other occasions, by different groups of soldiers. The commander of the base also participated in the rapes and beatings. We were all raped—the girls and the mothers. They brought new girls and women all the time, at least 40 girls and women were detained during the three months I was there.125

On May 23, 2007, the day after fighting in the area between the army and ONLF forces, the soldiers detained some villagers, including two women and a 16-year-old girl from Toon-Eli village in Korahe zone and took them to the Dhuumo-Dhumodle army base in Kabridahar. The two women and girl were detained there with another nine women, many of them relatives. Soldiers raped at least seven of the 12 women. On the night of May 29-30, soldiers executed Sahan Hussein and Khadar Ali Hussein in front of the other female detainees by strangling them with ropes after forcing them to confess to being ONLF members.126

In addition to these cases, based on victims’ accounts, many other former detainees reported witnessing rapes or seeing strong evidence of rape, such as women and girls who returned to their cells with ripped clothes, and bleeding from their private parts. A 19-year-old university student studying in Addis Ababa who was detained in Dhagahbur town in May 2007 when he returned home for a holiday, and kept for two months at a military base there, witnessed several such cases. During his detention, he saw a severely injured 23-year-old woman who was suffering from a swollen belly and an injured right arm after soldiers apparently raped her. She died from her injuries while at the base.127

A 30-year-old shopkeeper from Wardheer town was detained from early May until July 28, 2007 at the “Transport Tanks” military base in Wardheer town, accused of providing economic support to the ONLF. He told Human Rights Watch of several cases of rape of women detainees that he personally witnessed:

The women were accused of supporting the ONLF, cooking food for the fighters and spying for the ONLF. Most of the women were being raped. As we were moved outside our room, I witnessed women who were interrogated and raped. I saw with my own eyes two girls being raped, at different times. We could hear their screams and could see these things with our own eyes. One girl was raped by five soldiers one night I was taken out, I was handcuffed at the time, and another time two girls were being raped just meters away from me. All the time when they interviewed the girls, they used to force them to undress themselves. Six soldiers were with the two girls when I saw them being raped; the interrogator was there also. When the women refused to answer the questions, the interrogator allowed the soldiers to rape them.128  

In mid-May 2007, patrolling army soldiers detained a group of women and men from a small, unnamed nomadic settlement about two kilometers south of Shilabo town. The group was divided into several groups and told they would be taken to the military base in Shilabo for questioning. One of the women described how soldiers had taken her and another 10 women into a nearby forest, where they were beaten and raped before being left for dead:

Before we reached the town, the soldiers started beating us with thick sticks. They beat me very hard until I fell to the ground. This time while lying on the ground I was raped. I don’t know how many men raped me. Other women were raped too. It is a woodland area. We were about ten women, all of us were raped.

After the rape, some of the soldiers continued beating women, others were strangled with a rope but they didn’t die. In our group, we were shot. I was hit behind the left shoulder with a bullet. The army left us in the woodland. We were found by townspeople who took us to the town.129

Sexual Violence against Women Collecting Wood and Water

On May 8, 2007, army soldiers detained a 20-year-old charcoal seller from Kabridahar town while she was collecting wood near the military base in the Bam Burat area. The soldiers accused her of spying for the ONLF, and immediately began beating her with the wood she had collected and jumping on her body. At least three soldiers raped the woman. She lost consciousness from the beatings and the repeated rapes, and woke up nine days later at the military base in Kabridahar. After she was detained a month, her uncle managed to secure her release from the military base. She required extensive medical treatment for her wounds.130

In July 2007 patrolling soldiers from the Garbo base raped two young women on consecutive days as they went to fetch water from wells located a day’s walk from their homes in Fiiq zone. The first woman was detained by the soldiers around noon as she left the wells; two soldiers raped her and threw her off a cliff, causing her serious injuries. The second woman, who had just given birth to her first child, was detained around the same time the next day, and raped by three soldiers. Angry villagers protested by throwing stones at the army encampment. When the soldiers responded with gunfire, the villagers fled.131

122 Protocol II, art. 4(2)(e). See ICC Statute, art, 8(2)(e)(6).

123 See ICC Statute, art. 7(1)(g).

124 Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), Hargeysa (Somaliland), September 25, 2007.

125 Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), Nairobi, September 23, 2007.

126 Human Rights Watch interview with 26-year-old woman refugee, Dadaab refugee camps (Kenya), October 5, 2007.

127 Human Rights Watch interview with 19-year-old student, Hargeysa (Somaliland), September 27, 2007. After his release, the witness was also informed that his mother, aged 63, had been raped while being detained in a separate cell at the kifletor base in Dhagahbur.

128 Human Rights Watch interview with 37-year-old shopkeeper, Garissa (Kenya), September 20, 2007.

129 Human Rights Watch interview with 22-year-old refugee, Nairobi (Kenya), September 17, 2007.

130 Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), Hargeysa (Somaliland), September 27, 2007.

131 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with (name withheld), Bossaso, September 14, 2007.